Sgt. Garland Collier, U. S. Army 101st Airborne Paratrooper and native son of Coleman County, twenty-five years old when killed in action during World War II on October 5, 1944, in Opheusden, Holland (The Netherlands) has been accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. His remains were deemed non-recoverable for over seventy-eight years, but he will finally be returned home and laid to rest with his parents.
Garland was born in Novice, Coleman County, Texas on November 3, 1918, to parents Abner Belcher Collier and Abbie Morris Ralph Collier. He was the youngest child in his family among seven surviving siblings. Garland grew up in depression-era Texas yet was part of a close-knit family which valued strong work ethic, service to others and integrity. Garland attended Glen Cove and White Chapel Schools and later transferred to Coleman ISD, where he excelled in football, basketball, and track at Coleman High School. While he was very young, Garland lost his father in 1927 and his mother in 1935. Despite that, Garland persisted in finishing his schooling, graduating from high school in 1938.
After graduating from high school, he held various odd jobs in the Coleman area, in addition to working on a dairy farm operated by his brother-in-law, Jimmy Watson. He subsequently followed his older brother Dee, relocating to Bisbee, Arizona to work with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program as a “mucker” in the local copper mines.
He resided for two years in the Lowell Township, near Bisbee, Arizona. He again followed his older brother’s example when he enlisted in the U. S. Army on September 1, 1942, in Phoenix, Arizona, branding himself forever in military records as hailing from Arizona. He quickly became known as “Tex” in his service in 101st Airborne’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The elite highly trained group of soldiers was formed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, in June 1942. Garland was an initial member of this experiment in a new type of military initiative, developing paratroopers for a large-scale massive invasion. As a paratrooper, Garland continued extensive training, earned his Parachute Wings and certification, and was assigned to the 506th PIR/3rd BTN/HQ CO/LMG PLTN (light machine gun platoon).
Garland completed advanced airborne training including extensive parachute operations, night jumps, tactical maneuvers and simulation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, Camp MacKall and Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. In August 1943, the 506th transferred to Camp Shanks in New York, preparing for overseas movement to the European theatre of operation. Arriving in England a month later, the regiment was posted in Wiltshire County, with the 506th PIR quartered in the small village of Ramsbury. Here they trained for an additional ten months, all leading up to their participation in the massive Allied operation on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Leaving Exeter Airdrome and flying across the English Channel, his parachute “stick” was dropped into the Cherbourg Peninsula of Normandy. Unfortunately, after all twenty paratroopers jumped safely, their C-47 was downed in the English Channel on its return, its entire crew perishing. Behind enemy lines in France, Garland sustained wounds twice but was able to return with his unit to England for rest, recovery, and preparation for the colossal Allied jump as part of Operation Market-Garden. On September 17, 1944, Garland made his second official war-time jump, landing north of Eindhoven in Holland. His unit continued along “Hell’s Highway” northward toward Arnhem for several days, liberating small Dutch villages while at the same time encountering heavy German offensives. In the small village of Opheusden, Holland, located in a low-lying area between two rivers called “The Island”, Garland’s machine gun section was overrun by German troops. He was killed in action in a slit trench, his machine-gun section buddies by his side, near the railway station.
Although his family was notified by his commanding officer that he was buried in an American military cemetery, Garland’s remains were never properly identified nor recovered. In spite of countless official efforts by U. S. Army and Dutch officials, the family was notified in 1950 that Garland was one of a handful of Opheusden losses that had been deemed non-recoverable. Garland’s name was shortly thereafter memorialized at the Netherlands American Cemetery, in Margraten, on the Tablets of the Missing along with the names of over 1700 other fallen soldiers killed in action in Holland and whose remains were never found.
Recently, with modern technology aiding the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), which was reorganized as the Department of Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), more and more previously unidentified remains have been found, recovered, and identified. Family reference DNA samples were used in verifying Garland’s possible identification, should his remains ever be recovered. Miraculously, due to the comprehensive efforts of the DPAA, the family was notified on June 17, 2022, that Garland’s remains had, in fact, been recovered, transported to a lab facility in the United States and positively identified through DNA matching.
Garland was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and meritorious service, the fourth highest-ranking award a service member can receive for bravery and sacrifice in service of their country during an armed conflict. He also earned a Purple Heart for wounds incurred in France, as well as a posthumously awarded Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. He is memorialized at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, at the World War II Museum in New Orleans, and on a plaque in the town center of Opheusden, The Netherlands, recognizing his heroism and that of other 101st Airborne troops. On the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, a rosette has been added adjacent to his name, indicating his recovery and identification.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Abner and Annie Collier. His surviving siblings at the time of his death were Ina Collier Gorman, Nannie Lee Collier Ferguson and Vi Era Collier Watson Lindsey, Ralph Cecil Collier, Grady Alvin Collier, and Burrell Dee Collier. They are all deceased. Two of his brothers also served in World War II, 1st SGT Grady Collier in the 834th Engineers, BTN, 9th Air Force and PFC Burrell D. Collier, stationed in the Aleutian Islands during his service.
He is survived by nieces, Grace Watson Crum of Cedar Park, Marguerite Watson Daugherty of Redmond, Oregon and Sandra Collier Al-Rawi of Greenville, South Carolina; one nephew, Collier Royce Watson of Coleman and subsequent generations of great nieces and nephews and their children; many World War II authors, historians, enthusiasts, and citizens across the globe who take inspiration from his story.
On Thursday, November 10 and Friday, November 11, 2022, the public is invited to view the closed flag-draped casket of Sgt. Garland Collier at Stevens Funeral Home from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. both days. On Saturday, November 12, his family will meet at the funeral home to go in procession with his body to White Chapel Cemetery. The procession will leave Stevens Funeral Home, 400 W. Pecan Street, Coleman at 10:30 a.m. and process West on Walnut Street to Highway 153 to White Chapel Cemetery, 320-350 County Road 503, Coleman, a distance of approximately 10 miles. The graveside service with full military honors will begin at 11:00 a.m., Saturday, November 12, 2022, at White Chapel Cemetery. Stevens Funeral Home is honored to serve the family of Sgt. Garland Collier who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
The family invites all Coleman County veterans to attend the service and the public is also welcome.